You probably don’t remember. I didn’t, until George Takei reminded me.

Today, February 19, is the Day of Remembrance, the annual recognition of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing Executive Order 9066 and the subsequent incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Photo by: Dorothea Lange

Many of those Japanese-Americans were sent to Topaz, Utah, near the desert Topaz Mountain, where they finished building the barracks they were to live in, set up the barbed wire fence and build out the rest of the camp. More than 11,000 people were processed through Topaz—the population peaked at about 8,100 to 8,300.

Many books have been written by those who spent part of their life in the Topaz camp. In 2007 the Topaz site was listed as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. The Topaz Museum opened in 2017 with its interpretive exhibits.

You know the saying: Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Reading about Topaz and visiting the Topaz Museum is good way to refresh your memory.

From the Topaz Museum website:

On January 29, 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that volunteers would be accepted in an all-Japanese American combat unit. At about the same time, residents seventeen years of age and older in all the camps were given a questionnaire. Two questions became sore points for more than just the first-generation Japanese, who were not permitted citizenship in the United States. Question 27 asked, “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?” Question 28 followed with “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?” Since the Issei, or first-generation Japanese, were denied citizenship in the U.S., answering “yes” to question 28 would leave them without a country. After a protest by many residents, the questions were altered; but damage had already been done. Some became “No No boys” by answering “No” to both questions.
President Roosevelt announced in 1944 that the camps would close in 1945 and then people could return to their California homes. The Topaz camp didn’t close until October 31, 1945. 55 W Main St., Delta, UT 84624, 435-864-2514.

All photos courtesy of: Topaz Museum